Dawn broke, casting beams of light through the thick fog that hung about Lincolnshire. The townsfolk tossed and turned in their beds, their dreams infiltrated by images from the previous day’s horror. They saw strange things: lederhosen-clad men covered in blood, walking schnitzels begging for adoption, planes smashing through their roofs.
Ralph hadn’t even tried to sleep. He’d spent the night wandering, appreciative of the secrecy of the fog as he tried to walk off the past day’s trauma. To his surprise, he found himself at the foot of Falcon Crest Cliff, a small mountain that looked out over Lincolnshire. The sky was getting lighter by the second, and it was only ten minutes to the top, so he hiked up. Sitting on a bench, he watched as the fog began to lift and the eastern light came across the wetlands to strike the rooftops of his home town. Some place, this town of lovers and ne’er-do-wells.
He saw the Old Methodist Church on First Street, white steeple keeping careful watch over the town. First Street ran east-west, and housed the town’s two-block business district, with the church at its centre. It sputtered out to houses, then eventually to farmland in either direction. He remembered his father’s stories of a time when class had brought the two sides of town – east of the church and west of the church – into bitter conflict.
As his eyes scanned the town, the sight of Old Piney lifted Ralph from his meditation, and images flashed through his mind. The military plane, the body, the crowd, hundreds of people screaming at him for an answer. John’s beard, how should I know? Ask the damn narcs!
Ralph knew the town’s investigation would fail, though. Dr. Hiskez, Lincolnshire’s sole doctor and police officer, was an incompetent enforcer of the law, and had too much on his plate to conduct a serious investigation. And even if the investigation were to happen, the military would smother it before it took its first breath. No, he knew there would be no justice for Herr Hansel.
Ralph hadn’t known him personally, but everyone around town knew who he was – it was impossible not to. His campaigns for co-operatively owned renewable energy sources, his legendary Oktoberfest parties, his annual public solo performance of Handel’s Messiah – Herr Hansel had been a Lincolnshire institution.
He stared at Old Piney as he pondered, and, although he’d later swear it was his imagination, for a second he thought he saw an ethereal figure, floating in agitated circles around the treetop. “Justice,” Ralph whispered to himself. “Justice must be wrought.” Then it dawned on him: he, Ralph, would be shepherd to the flock. It all made sense. He was the one in the tree, he was the first to see the dead man’s face, and he would be the steward of justice.
He stood, and stepped up onto the bench. The fog had lifted, the town below him lay fully revealed, and a beam of light broke through the trees to land on his chest.
“Mark my words, Herr Hensel. By Thor’s hammer, I will bring you justice.”